Commentary on the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda


Discourse 47: The Seventeenth Chapter Concludes – The Meaning of Om Tat Sat

We are now on the concluding portion of the Seventeenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita.

oṁ tat sad iti nirdeśo brahmaṇas trividhaḥ smṛtaḥ
brāhmaṇās tena vedāś ca yajñāś ca vihitāḥ purā
(17.23)
tasmād om ity udāhṛtya yajñadānatapaḥkriyāḥ
pravartante vidhānoktāḥ satataṁ brahmavādinām (17.24)
tad ityanabhisaṁdhāya phalaṁ yajñatapaḥkriyāḥ
dānakriyāś ca vividhāḥ kriyante mokṣakāṅkṣibhiḥ (17.25)
sadbhāve sādhubhāve ca sad ityetat prayujyate
praśaste karmaṇi tathā sacchabdaḥ pārtha yujyate (17.26)
yajñe tapasi dāne ca sthitiḥ sad iti cocyate
karma caiva tadarthīyaṁ sad ityevābhidhīyate (17.27)
aśraddhayā hutaṁ dattaṁ tapas taptaṁ kṛtaṁ ca yat
asad ity ucyate pārtha na ca tat prepya no iha (17.28)

The Supreme Being—Brahman, the Absolute—is designated as Om Tat Sat in a threefold definition or description. Knowers of the Vedas, known as Brahmanas, and the Veda mantras, and the yajnas or sacrifices, are all purified and consecrated by the recitation of this mystic symbol Om Tat Sat. The threefold description of Brahman as Om, Tat and Sat is always recited in all religious performances—during the study of the Vedas, at the conclusion of sacrifices or yajnas, and whatever rituals that Brahmanas, that is, the knowers of the Vedas, may undertake. Sacrifices (yajna), charities (dana), austerities (tapas), are undertaken by people according to the rules and regulations of the scriptures and as laid down by knowers of Brahman, beginning with the chanting of Om: om ity udāhṛtya yajñadānatapaḥkriyāḥ. Whenever we commence any holy act, we say Om. We never see people commencing a worship without chanting Om first. Whether it is a prayer, a meditational session, a worship or a svadhyaya, all this commences with an inward recitation of Om.

Tad ityanabhisaṁdhāya phalaṁ yajñatapaḥkriyāḥ, dānakriyāś ca vividhāḥ kriyante mokṣakāṅkṣibhiḥ: Similarly, yajna, dana and tapas are associated with the other letter, Tat, in the same way as Om is associated with yajna, dana and tapas, and with all religious performances. Sat is the third symbol, which signifies goodness. We say satsanga, sant, saint, mahatma, which all come from the word ‘Sat’. Sacchabdaḥ pārtha yujyate: Whenever there is something good or saintly, we call that Sat. Whenever there is something auspicious, then also we use the word Sat in regard to that auspicious beginning. The words yajna, dana and tapah—sacrifice, austerity and charity—are repeated again and again, but they become stable and meaningful, and bear the requisite fruit, only when they are associated with Sat, or Pure Existence. All the activities that we perform for the sake of fulfilling yajna, dana and tapaskarma caiva tadarthīyaṁ—anything that we do for the welfare of our own self as well as that of others, for the fulfilment of our spiritual aspirations, all come under Sat, or immense goodness.

Actually, the terms ‘Tat’ and ‘Sat’ signify the transcendent aspect of Brahman and the immanent aspect of Brahman, both of which are blended together in a universalised connotation, or denotation, as we may call it, which is Om. The Supreme Being is called Om because of the inclusiveness of the Supreme Being. Though the Supreme Being is inclusive, it manifests itself as transcendent and immanent when creation takes place. We are in this world of creation, and we know very well that every nook and corner and particle of every atom is pervaded and indwelt by the Supreme Brahman, yet this Brahman is not exhausted in this world. The whole of Brahman is present in this world, and yet the whole of Brahman is above this world. Pūrṇam adaḥ, pūrṇam idam, pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate (Isa). The whole Brahman manifests the whole universe, and the whole Brahman enters wholly into this whole universe. Though the whole Brahman enters wholly into this universe, the transcendent aspect of Brahman is not in any way affected by this entry of Brahman into the cosmos.

The usual idea of location that we have in our minds is that if we are in one place, we cannot be in another place; and if Brahman is inside this world, Brahman cannot be outside the world. That is to say, if God is involved in this world as the immanent principle enveloping the whole world completely, there would be no God left beyond the world. There would be no transcendence. But it is not so. The entire Brahman remains there, uninvolved in the creational process in spite of the entire Brahman controlling the whole universe and entering into it, even to the smallest particle.

Thus, the Tat is the transcendent, the otherwordly, impossible to grasp, beyond the reaches of space and time; and the Sat is that very same thing involved in this creation. It is here, and also there. Our minds have a peculiar difficulty in imagining the connection between transcendence and immanence because we always think that transcendence means something getting beyond our control and remaining far above, so distant from us that we cannot even imagine where it is. Far, far, infinitely far, is that unreachable Supreme Brahman. But Brahman which is so far, apparently unreachable even by the mind with its speed of thought, is also here, immanently involved as the soul of all beings. Therefore, it is necessary to visualise a total picture of this transcendent existence as well as the immanent existence of God, and to overcome the limitations of the mind which compel us to make a distinction between that which is far and that which is near. We cannot, even for a moment, imagine how something that is very far away can also be something that is very near. It is impossible to imagine such a thing. The near thing cannot be the distant thing. But here is a peculiar situation where the most distant thing is also the nearest. That is the reason why we say that spatial definitions are not to be introduced into the characterisation of Brahman, the Absolute.

Our difficulty in blending together the notions of distance and nearness arise on account of our thinking in terms of space. When we say God is far away, we think in terms of spatial distance. When we say that God is very near us, then also we think in terms of some location in space juxtaposed to our body, as it were. But, try to think a thing minus the measurable characteristic of space. The mind cannot perform this feat. Minus space, nothing can be thought and, therefore, an immeasurable thing, or non-measurable thing, cannot be conceived in the mind. This is why God cannot become an object of thought. Nobody can think God because thinking is a process involved in space and time, and that which is called God is not in space and time.

Hence, that which is not involved in the distance of space and the duration of time cannot be thought by the human mind, which always thinks in terms of distance and duration. Yet, in spiritual meditations we are expected to wean the mind from this involvement of thinking in terms of distance and duration, and bring together the concepts of transcendence and immanence, Tat and Sat, together in an Om that is all-inclusive.

This inclusiveness is signified by Om, or pranava, which is partly a vibration that creates all substances constituting the universe, and is partly scriptural because it is a name or nomenclature for God. Tasya vācakaḥ praṇavaḥ (Y.S. 1.27), says Patanjali in one of the sutras. If we want to designate God, we have to designate Him only by the term Om, pranava. We cannot call Him by any other name, because all names arising from language denote some object which is in some place. When we say tree, the name ‘tree’ denotes some object which is in some place. Everything else is also of the same nature. When we utter any word that designates some object—it could be any word in the dictionary—that word connotes or denotes something that is in some place or at some time, but it cannot denote something that is everywhere and for all time. So, no word in any language can designate That which is everywhere and at all times.

Hence, Om is specially regarded as a symbolic expression which embodies in itself the total process of sound production. All the letters of the alphabet, when they are uttered, create a vibration in the vocal cords. The sound box operates in some way when one letter is uttered, and in another way when another letter is uttered; and there are varieties of operations of the vocal system when different letters are uttered. But when Om is chanted, the entire sound box vibrates—Aaaaauuuummm. This process originates from the deepest beginning of the process of sound and ends with just a rarefied form of the sound ‘m’, which merges into a soundless, ethereal, pervading something. This total sound vibration goes beyond the process of sound production and becomes an intangible super-sensory force. In this kind of Omkara, the transcendent aspect and the Sat aspect are clubbed together.

Thus, the threefold definition of Brahman—Om Tat Sat—means God here, God above and God below, and God everywhere. The everywhereness of God includes the aboveness and the hereness of God. The aboveness is Tat, the hereness is Sat, and the everywhereness is Om. Therefore, Om Tat Sat is a complete mystical symbol which was evolved by ancient Masters. This is why in all auspicious beginnings, Om is chanted; and when we conclude anything, we say Om Tat Sat, dedicating the performance to the Almighty.

Aśraddhayā hutaṁ dattaṁ tapas taptaṁ kṛtaṁ ca yat, asad ityucyate pārtha na ca tat prepya no iha: Faithless performance is asat, whether it is a performance in the form of yajna or sacrifice, charity, a philanthropic deed, or an austerity or tapas. Anything that is done without faith is asat. This chapter is devoted entirely to the question of what faith is in its sattvic, rajasic and tamasic aspects. Performance without faith is devoid of the immanent force of divinity because it is not conducted with the operation of the soul, which is called the faith of the person. Faith is nothing but the action of the soul and, therefore, it is more powerful than any other faculty working in a person. If this faith is not there, the performance brings no result either in this world or in the other world: na ca tat prepya, not after death; na iha, not even here. Faith is supreme, and its threefold character has been beautifully explained in the Seventeenth Chapter. With this, we conclude the Seventeenth Chapter.